Introduction...5. Session 1: Friendship with Christ Session 2: Prayer Session 3: Sacred Scripture...26

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1 Table of Contents Introduction Session 1: Friendship with Christ Session 2: Prayer Session 3: Sacred Scripture Session 4: The Eucharist: Intimate Friendship with Christ Session 5: Christian Community Session 6: Initial and Ongoing Conversion Conclusion Appendix Small Group Discussion Guidelines Your Role as a Facilitator Materials to Have at Your Small Group

2 Introduction Come, follow me. Matthew 4:19 Jesus spoke these simple words to his disciples long ago. Jesus speaks the same words to us today. We can hear it in the restlessness of our hearts amidst the frantic pace of modern life. We can sense it in our most honest yearnings for purpose in a world inundated with distraction. This introductory small group guide is designed to beckon wih this same call, Come, follow me. All of us are called to pursue the way, the truth, and the life (Jn 14:6) that is not a something, but a someone: the Word made flesh, God incarnated in the person of Jesus Christ. In his first encyclical letter, Deus Caritas Est (God is Love), our Holy Father Benedict XVI reminds us: Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice, or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person. This person is of course Jesus Christ, the cornerstone of our faith and the reason for our hope. Pope John Paul II proclaimed Christ as the foundation and center of history, its meaning and ultimate goal (Novo Millennio Christ is the foundation and center of history; He is its meaning and ultimate goal. Pope John Paul II Novo Millennio Ineuente, 5 Ineunte, 5). This person Jesus Christ, the center and ultimate goal of human history is the foundation and focal point for all studies in the CONNECTIONS series. Our purpose here is to stimulate an actual encounter with the living God, with Jesus Christ risen from the dead. In communion with the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, we hope that the following reflections will help people consciously grow in the life of Christ through experience, reflection, prayer and study (USCCB, Our Hearts Were 5

3 So that all parishes may be truly communities of Christians, local ecclesial authorities ought to foster... small, basic or so-called living communities, where the faithful can communicate the word of God and express it in service and love to one another; these communities are true expressions of ecclesial communion and centers of evangelization, in communion with their pastors Pope John Paul II, The Lay Members of Christ s Faithful People Burning Within Us). In addition to a presentation of truths regarding Our Lord and his Church, Connection to Christ seeks to facilitate a deeply personal, yet at the same time communal encounter with God. We all long for deep friendship with our brothers and sisters in Christ. These types of friendships form when we can gather together to express and solidify that which bonds us for eternity our faith and hope in God through Jesus Christ. Our common baptism binds the Church together and makes the way for Christian community. It is hoped that for each participant, Connection to Christ might become an avenue for truly intentional Christian community one that reflects the manifold gifts of the body of Christ, one that nourishes real growth in each disciple of Jesus, one that responds to the call of Christ to be a light unto the world (Mt 5:13). John Paul II promoted small Christian communities as a means of evangelization, an instrument for effectively sharing the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world. Being a part of a thriving small group promotes substantial spiritual growth and even conversion, and this sort of holy vitality quite naturally spills over into the lives of others. As Pope John Paul II noted, Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40). 6

4 Matter of fact, mature disciples who are continually enlivened by their encounters with Christ are positively brilliant when it comes to sharing the Gospel. There is perhaps no one who is more excited to share the beauty of Jesus than one who has just met him. In the same way we are compelled to impart good news or fortune with those around us, there is nothing more natural after having received the ultimate good news (or Gospel) of Jesus Christ than to burst forth and share this great gift with the world. This is the heart of Catholic evangelization. It is our continually confirmed experience that effective small groups can facilitate deep, personal encounters with God which will bear the fruit of evangelization for years to come. Small groups can help re-awaken the evangelical impulse of our tradition and reposition evangelization as the center of the Church s mission and her deepest identity (Pope Paul VI, Evangelii Nuntiandi, 14). After a personal and life-changing encounter with Christ, we cannot help but share with others the Good News. Out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34 Effective small groups facilitate a deeper and more penetrating experience of the principle means by which we celebrate intimate union with Christ the liturgy. Connection to Christ can and should be understood in light of its These communities are a sign of vitality within the Church, an instrument of formation and evangelization, and a solid starting point for a new society based on civilization of love. Pope John Paul II, Mission of the Redeemer, 51 ultimate connection to the Church s worship, belief, and activity. By digging into the sacred sources Scripture and Tradition we are better able to unearth the profound mystery of Emmanuel God-with-us. The engagement in the Christian mystery through small group prayer, study, and discussion, better enables us 7

5 to embrace and appropriate God s supreme gift to us through the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life (Sacramentum Concilium, 47). In this way, Connection to Christ strengthens the relationship between worship and belief. The same process of reading and prayer that we use in each week s Connection to Christ group can be used in our personal prayer at home. Time, set aside to focus on God, opens our eyes to realize how amazingly close he is to us in every moment. Christ s presence at Mass comes alive to us. As we learn to see him in our daily lives, we see him better at Mass, especially as we receive him in the Eucharist. While the celebration of the Eucharistic liturgy is the principal place we encounter God, grow Those who have come into genuine contact with Christ cannot keep him for themselves, they must proclaim him. Pope John Paul II, Novo Millennio Ineunte, 40 strong in faith, and are equipped for mission in the kingdom of God, a small Christian community is a natural complement and enhancement of these ends. We hope that this introductory small group guide will help you further encounter Jesus Christ, the center and cornerstone of our faith, giving your life a new horizon and decisive direction. We pray that these studies will inspire you to place Christ at the center of your lives and help you to grow in the likeness of the One we call both friend and savior. All in all, our goal through Connection to Christ is none other than to help you to discover and rediscover that God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him (1 Jn 4:16). We follow the pastoral principle which frames the whole life of the Church and all her endeavors Whether something is proposed for belief, for hope or for action, the love of our Lord must always be made accessible, so that anyone can see that all the works of perfect Christian virtue spring from love and have no other objective than to arrive at 8

6 love (Roman Catechism, Preface, 10). Our prayer is that your love may abound more and more (Phil 1:9) and your witness to Jesus Christ might plant the seeds for a new springtime of evangelization (JPII) in the Church and throughout the world. Hear the words of Jesus today, Come, follow me, and experience the truth that will set you free (Jn 8:32). One way of renewing parishes, especially for parishes in large cities, might be to consider the parish as a community of communities. It seems timely therefore to form ecclesial communities and groups of a size that allows for true human relationships. This will make it possible to live communion more intensely, ensuring that it is fostered not only ad intra, but also with the parish communities to which such groups belong and with the entire diocesan and universal Church. In such a human context it will be easier to gather to hear the word of God, to reflect on the range of human problems in the light of this word and gradually to make responsible decisions inspired by the all-embracing love of Christ. Pope John Paul II, The Church in America 9

7 Session 1: Friendship with Christ I no longer call you servants... Instead I call you friends. John 15:15 Invite all participants to pray aloud the following prayer by Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033 A.D A.D). O Lord, our God, teach our hearts this day where and how to see you, where and how to find you. You have made us and remade us, and you have bestowed on us all the good things we possess, and still we do not know you. We have not yet done that for which we were made. Teach us to seek you, for we cannot seek you unless you teach us, or find you unless you show yourself to us. Let us seek you in our desire; let us desire you in our seeking. Let us find you by loving you; let us love you when we find you. We pray through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen. Opening Prayer 10

8 Sharing Our Experience Take a couple minutes to turn to a partner and tell them about your best friend. Use the following questions as loose guidelines for your conversation. What is your best friend like? What first attracted you to your best friend? How do you spend time together? Talk about your conversations why are they so good/interesting? What makes your friendship solid? What habits do you need in order to cultivate your friendship? How have you changed since you met your friend? What could endanger your friendship? Group discussion to summarize together. What stood out to you during your conversation? What then are the key elements to a good friendship? What are some things that get in the way of good friendship? Have you ever considered God to be a friend? Why or why not? Compare the key elements of a good friendship to your relationship with God. On a scale of 1-10, how would you assess your friendship with God (1 being don t even know him and 10 being best friends )? Explain. 11

9 Scripture and Tradition Please invite a participant to read the following passage aloud. Reading: No matter where you may be with God, he calls each of us into deeper communion, a closer relationship, and yes, even an intimate friendship with him. Yet many of us find it challenging to think about God as our friend. It somehow feels too familiar, too irreverent or even childish. We are more comfortable with a loftier God, a more cosmic Christ, a God marked more by transcendence than familiarity. Reflecting upon the divinity of Christ, St. Paul wrote to the community of believers in Colossae: Reading: Colossians 1: He is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation; 16 for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or Christ is the foundation and center of history; He is its meaning and ultimate goal. Pope John Paul II, Novo Millenio Ineunte, 40 dominions or principalities or authorities all things were created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the first-born from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. 12

10 How do you think about or understand God? Is God more distant for you or is he close? Familiar or removed? Personable or inaccessible? Explain. What are some of the fears we all share in opening ourselves up to a friendship with Christ? Please invite a participant to read the following aloud. Reading: You might find that Paul s image of Christ in this passage reflects the way you feel about God. This majestic portrait of Jesus Christ is wondrous, awe-inspiring, and absolutely true. Yet it would fall short of revealing the fuller nature of God if it did not also disclose the thoroughly personal, familiar, and human side of the Lord. While most of us are very comfortable with God as Creator, many of us don t know what to do with God who calls us into intimate friendship with him. Reading: Pope Benedict XVI, Inaugural Homily Are we not perhaps all afraid in some way? If we let Christ enter fully into our lives, if we open ourselves totally to him, are we not afraid that He might take something away from us? Are we not perhaps afraid to give up something significant, something unique, something that makes life so beautiful? Do we not then risk ending up diminished and deprived of our freedom? Do not be afraid! Throw open the doors to Christ! Pope John Paul II, Inaugural Address, 1978 And once again the Pope (John Paul II) said: No! If we let Christ into our lives, we lose nothing, nothing, absolutely nothing of what makes life free, beautiful and great. No! Only in this friendship are the doors of life opened wide. Only in this friendship is the great potential of human existence truly revealed. Only in this friendship do we experience beauty and liberation. 13

11 And so, today, with great strength and great conviction, on the basis of long personal experience of life, I say to you, dear young people: Do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and he gives you everything. When we give ourselves to him, we receive a hundredfold in return. Yes, open, open wide the doors to Christ and you will find true life. Amen. What spoke to you from this passage? What challenged you from this passage? What fears might you have or have you had about an intimate friendship with Christ? Explain. What does Pope Benedict XVI say will result if we open ourselves to the Lord? Reading: John 15: I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. 2 Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. 3 You are already made clean by the word which I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord... I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him... abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. 5 I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If a man does not abide in me, he is cast forth as a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire and burned. Philippians 3:8 7 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you will, 14

12 and it shall be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you; abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full. What is the main message of the passage? What are some of the recurring phrases? What is the relationship between the vine and the branches? How does this metaphor help us to understand what Jesus is saying to us here? So, what does it mean to abide in or remain in Christ? Does the passage give any practical guidance for ways to remain in Christ? What from your conversation about your closest friend might also apply here? In Jn 6:56, Jesus said, He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. How does Jesus teaching in John 6:56 compliment this passage? How would you explain pruning from God s (the vinedresser s/gardener s) perspective? How would you explain pruning from your perspective (a branch)? What kind of pruning have you experienced in your spiritual life? Describe what it was like to go through the pruning. What was the result? Did the pruning and the results of the pruning have an impact on your friendship with Christ? Where do you see yourself in this passage? You may want to include elements regarding your connection to the vine of Christ, pruning, and fruitfulness. 15

13 Connecting to Christ This Week St. Augustine understood the human condition as restless until finding eternal peace in God, our Creator. To this restlessness Jesus speaks today Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest (Mt 11:28). Take some time this week to come to Jesus with your anxieties, your weariness, and your burdens. Call out to the One who knows your need and who longs to bring us fulfillment and eternal joy in him. Readings for reflection this week Psalm 139 John Matthew 11:25-30 John 8:28-32 Isaiah 55:1-3; Proverbs 3:5-6 Philippians 4:4-9 Prepare for the Sunday Eucharistic Liturgy by meditating on the Scripture readings from Mass. To find the readings go to 16

14 Closing Reflection & Prayer The following is a reflection by the Missionaries of Charity Fathers written as God speaking to us. Please invite a participant to read it aloud. Then take time for any spontaneous prayers of petition, praise, and thanksgiving. I Thirst for You It is true. I stand at the door of your heart, day and night. Even when you are not listening, even when you doubt it could be me, I am there. I await even the smallest sign of your response, even the least whispered invitation that will allow Me to enter. And I want you to know that whenever you do invite me, I do come always and without fail. Silent and unseen I come, but with infinite power and love, and bringing the many gifts of My Spirit. I come with My mercy, with My desire to forgive and heal you, and with a love for you beyond your comprehension a love every bit as great as the love I have received from the Father. I come, longing to console you and give you my strength, to lift you up and bind all your wounds Come to Me with your troubles and needs, and with all your longing to be loved Open to me, for I thirst for you. 17

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